The Syro-Malabar Catholic Community is one of the vibrant migrant communities in the Diocese of Leeds. With the governments recruitment drive in health care around the year 2000, there was an influx of people from many parts of the world especially from India to United Kingdom. A few families with Christian background from Kerala, set up a prayer group and had regular prayer meetings every week. It had a very tiny beginning in later half of the year 2002. However, it had a steady and constant growth during the last 10 years. Today there are approximately 150 Syro-Malabar catholic families living inside the teritorry of Leeds Diocese. Most of the community members are professionals working in Health and Social Care, Information Technology, Social Work and similar fields.
St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Christ, after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, set about the mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world. He came to India in A.D. 52 and preached the Gospel and established ecclesial communities. Seven of such communities are well known in the Malabar coast of South India: They are Kodungalloor, Niranam, Kollam, Chayal, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam and Palayoor in the present state of Kerala. After his preaching in Malabar Coast he traveled to East coast and there he suffered Martyrdom in 72 A.D. July 3 is observed as a Holy Day of Obligation by the Syro-Malabar Church. His tomb is located at Mylapore in Tamilnadu. The Apostle gave his followers a way of worship suited to their clime, culture and customs.The early Christians of India were known as St. Thomas Christians or “Nazrani Mappila”. The head of the Church in India was called the “Metropolitan of the whole of India”.
Due to the commercial relationship between Persia and South India, East Syrian language was introduced to the early Christians. The St. Thomas Christians of India accepted the liturgy developed by the disciples of St. Thomas in Mesopotamia known as Ss. Adai and Mari. The Chaldean Church of Iraq uses the present anaphora –Eucharistic prayer – of the Syro-Malabar Church, known as Anaphora of Ss. Adai and Mari. These two Churches have common East Syrian liturgical tradition. But St. Thomas Christians – Syro-Malabar Church – had different style of administration, customs and practices. The historian of our Church, Rev. Fr. Placid Podipara, CMI, has rightly put it: “The Syro-Malabar Church is Christian in faith, oriental in worship and Indian in culture”.
Around A.D. 345 Thomas of Cana and 72 families from Syria came to India and settled in Kodungalloor. It is believed that there was a bishop and priest with them. The descendents of this group are known as Sudhists or Knananites, keeping a separate identity among St. Thomas Christians. Since that period, the bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church used to be from Persia of East Syrian tradition. He was the spiritual leader of the community, while a local priest, called Archdeacon, administered the temporal affairs. Thus the Indian Church became a member of the Syro- Chaldean Patriarchate for practical purpose, not for doctrinal reasons.
It was in 1498, the Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama reached Kodungalloor. Following him, western missionaries also came to India. The St. Thomas Christians welcomed them cordially. Since the Syrian liturgy and local customs were unknown to the missionaries, they wanted to latinize our liturgy and practices. This caused disagreements and dissensions. The Synod held at Udayamperoor in 1599 (Known as ‘Synod of Diamper’) was an enforcement for latinization. No more Syrian bishop was welcome; the administration was taken over by the latin (Western) bishops. The resentment between the St. Thomas Christians and missionaries continued and following the event of ‘Coonan Cross Oath’ in 1653, real division took place among the St. Thomas Christians. The majority of St. Thomas Christians remained faithful to the Catholic Church under the Latin bishop while others accepted the Syrian Jacobitism. Then the former group came to be known as ‘old party’ (Pazhayakur) and the latter group called ‘New party’ (Puthenkur). The old party is the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the new party is the Orthodox Church. Both have St. Thomas Christian tradition.
Since the division among the St. Thomas Christians immediately after the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653, there have been several movements towards reunion. For a long while, nothing worked out. But in 1930, a large group of Syrian Jacobites, under the leadership of Metropolitan Mar Ivanios and Metropolitan Mar Theophilos, reunited with the Catholic Church. They were allowed to continue their Antiochean liturgical tradition. This reunited group is recognized as ‘Syro-Malankara Catholic Church’ in Catholic Communion. They have also the same St. Thomas Christian tradition.
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the 21 sui iuris Oriental Churches in Catholic Communion with its own particular characteristics expressed in worship, spirituality, theology and disciplinary laws. The early Christian community in India was known as St. Thomas Christians. In the course of history this Church entered into life-relation with the Christian communities which came to be known as the East Syrian Church. This relationship made the Thomas Christians share the liturgical, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions with the East Syrian Church. At the same time St. Thomas Christians kept their distinctive character especially in Church administration and socio- cultural and ascetico-spiritual life On 20 May 1887, Pope Leo XIII of illustrious memory by the bull ‘Quod Jampridem’ reorganized the St.Thomas Christians under two vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam. On 28 July 1896 by the bull ‘Quae rei sacrae’, the same Pope reconstituted the two vicariates into three vicariates of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanachery and appointed natives as bishops. These Catholic St. Thomas Christians were then called ‘The Syro-Malabar Church’.
The growth of Syro-Malabar in the 20th century is widely admitted as marvellous. This energetic Church took up challenges in the Mission fields and from 1962 Syro-Malabar Exarchates were elevated to the status of Eparchies. Taking into consideration the age old traditions and the enormous growth of the Apostolic and Indian Church and in order to rectify the above anomaly, Pope John Paul II, by the constitution ‘Quae Maiori’, dated 16th December 1992, raised the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of Major Archiepiscopal Sui iuris Church with the title of Ernakulam – Angamaly. On December 21, 1923, the Syro- Malabar Hierarchy was established with Ernakulam as the Metropolitan See and Trichur and Changanacherry and Kottayam (established in 1911 for the Southists) as suffragans. In 1956 Changanacherry was raised to the status of a Metropolitan See. On December 16, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of Major Archiepiscopal sui iuris Church with the title of Ernakulam-Angamaly. Mar Antony Paidyara, the then Metropolitan of Ernakulam was appointed its Major Archbishop with Mar Abraham Kattumana as the Pontifical Delegate who discharged the duties of the Major Archbishop. Archbishop Kattumana died unexpectedly during his visit to Rome in April 1995 and Mar Padiyara was given the powers of the Major Archbishop.
At present the Syro-Malabar Major Achiepiscopal Church has 18 Eparchies inside its proper territory under 4 metropolitan sees and 11 Eparchies outside the proper territory. An Eparchy was erected in Chicago for the Syro-Malabar migrants in February 2001. It is considered to be a remarkable event and milestone in the history of the Syro-Malabar Church. . The Syro-Malabar Church, which was limited between Bharatapuzha and Pampanadi, was extended to the north of India and now it is extended to the western world, and thus the Syro-Malabar Church is now universal in full sense. The community now has approximately 4 million members world-wide.
This is compiled from various sources under the gudiance of authority.